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Virtual vs. In-person Learning

By: Melania Diah (Reporter '23)

Nearly two years ago, Friends' Central students had to learn to navigate a world with COVID-19. Perhaps the biggest academic change that arose from COVID-19’s emergence was transitioning to virtual classes via Zoom. Every day, students would get up and not get on a bus or into their car, but rather merely sit at a desk and “Zoom in.” Now that I have been attending classes in person for half a year in the post-Zoom era, I can say that there are multiple differences between the two forms of learning. Honestly, some are for the better and some are for the worse. This article explores my thoughts on the past few years as a current junior at FCS.

I had a weird introduction to virtual classes. When I was in my freshman year, we got a two-week break before transitioning to virtual classes for half the time of a normal school day. I had never used Zoom up until that point, and it suddenly becoming a part of my daily life was daunting. Looking back on it, it seems so long ago. I would get up, log on for my classes, do my homework, and have a lot of free time afterward. I can imagine that, for other students, this was the ideal schedule. There was so much space to do whatever one wanted, as the schedule gave students power over what they wanted to do with their day—for some, this was liberating.

The actual classes themselves were utterly unorganized at first, but that was understandable. Most teachers hadn't taught classes virtually, let alone taught on a new program not optimized for education. As the pace of the classes started to get back to normal, the differences between our old way of learning and this new way were prominent. One big difference was that class participation decreased—rapidly so. This meant that there were fewer student voices leading discussions. I much prefer it when students lead class discussions rather than having teachers deliver lectures. When we were learning in person, a person's tone and body language shined through as they were asking or answering a question. With the adjusted audio and position of the camera, a student’s character doesn't add to their answer. This is what a lot of the issues with virtual learning stem from: the lack of social interaction that in-person learning promises.

By my tenth-grade year, I was fed up. Virtual learning was tiring in the sense that it felt repetitive. You would sit at your desk and move around once in a while. There was no moving between classrooms. Instead, I was just a click away from my next class. There was no talking with other students in the halls or sitting with friends at lunch. Essentially, it got boring, and it got boring quickly. I couldn't wait for COVID-19 to be over—whatever that meant—so that everything could go back to normal. Sometimes the teachers were generous and gave us breaks to stretch, but that didn't make up for our lack of movement. My motivation to complete assignments started to dwindle as little news of our return to in-person learning was announced.

Now, here I am, a junior. This year is my first full year of in-person learning in high school. Similar to the converse with virtual learning, I had to awkwardly shift back into the mindset of being physically present in class. I got what I wanted, though—social interaction—but not in the way it once was. Masking and social distancing were scrutinizingly enforced. Changes were also made to the campus, such as the addition of multiple sanitizing stations and the number of tables in the cafeteria. It's hard to forget we are living in a world still dealing with COVID-19. With these changes came alterations to student learning. Some classroom activities could not be possible due to the possibility of spreading the virus. At times, it was hard to hear teachers and students under their cloth masks. The class discussions were once again limited by not being able to see each other’s mouths move. Even with the limitations placed on faculty and students, we are still able to interact with each other. This makes the school day all the more enjoyable and keeps students engaged.

I still love the in-person atmosphere because of the social interaction I do get. I took this aspect of learning for granted before all “this” started, but now I know that that's what motivates me and many other students. This is why I feel that in-person learning is far superior to virtual learning. For what virtual learning was, it was satisfactory to the point where I was able to have an alternative learning environment. However, the lack of motivation throughout the year was a big struggle. It's a good thing that students are now able to de-mask outside during the school day. After the past few years, I can't wait to reach a new “normal.”

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